Friendsville woman loses 134 pounds, vows to continue journey
By Melanie Tucker | (email@example.com)
For Debbie Covert, weight loss was something she could do whenever she put her mind to it. She had, after all, lost an amazing 100 pounds — three times over her lifetime.
But somewhere along that journey of loss and gain and back again, this 57-year-old resident of Friendsville connected up with a group of people just like her — people who needed some extra help, extra support and the accountability factor. That group was Take Off Pounds Sensibly, or TOPS as it’s come to be called. Covert joined the chapter that meets at Monte Vista Baptist Church 20 years ago.
A plan that works
At her heaviest, Covert weighed 315 pounds, she said. She was able to lose weight by following TOPS’ guidelines and said she loves the fact it isn’t a stringent diet or expensive to join. She’s had her ups and downs over the years, but in 2012 this mother of three and grandmother of 10 reached a milestone that would cause anyone to jump for absolute joy. She has dropped 134 pounds and just recently got back from Memphis where she was crowned Tennessee TOPS Queen, for losing the most weight of any TOPS member in the state. She has the gorgeous crown and flowers to prove it.
And a body that no longer fits into that old size 26. She saved one of those outfits to remind her of where she was then and how things have changed for the better. She even modeled it in the Baggy Parade in Memphis.
Covert said she had been overweight her entire life. She weighed 10.2 pounds at birth. “Everyone in my family is overweight,” she explained. She has three sisters and one brother. He was at 400 pounds at one time, Covert said. Her mother, who was diabetic and overweight, died of a heart attack in the backyard.
She heard about TOPS from her sister who was living in Ohio, but Covert said she had no idea how to reach anyone here locally. That was the year she just happened to attend the Maryville/Alcoa Christmas parade, and TOPS just happened to have a float in it — with a phone number on the side. She wrote it down and called.
“My journey in TOPS began,” she said.
TOPS was started in 1948 and claims to be the original, nonprofit weight loss program. It recommends a couple of different diet plans, like the My Plate established by the USDA to replace the Food Guide Pyramid. In addition, TOPS provides members with educational programs and rewards its members for achieving milestones along the way.
Something to say
A shy and introverted person, Covert said it took all of her courage to show up at TOPS and let others see where she was. She was heavier than she’s ever been and felt totally hopeless.
“I was in pain with the weight I was carrying around,” she explained. “My feet and legs hurt all the time. I would get out of breath doing simple tasks.”
Covert started dieting successfully on a 1,000 calorie diet. She lost 100 pounds in seven months. She admits she didn’t know how to handle the attention and eventually stopped going to meetings.
When she did, her fellow TOPS members were nothing but supportive. Whenever she slipped and didn’t show up for the weekly meetings, her weight loss family would call and send cards.
“An important thing I’ve learned is how important TOPS is to my success,” Covert said. “I’m learning that when I fail to keep coming anyway. I have been my own worst enemy.”
Now that Covert has reached her goal, she isn’t quitting the group. She said she still needs that accountability, the friendships and the guidance to make healthy choices.
She has been faithful to an exercise regimen of an hour each day. And if there is a birthday or other special occasion to celebrate, she allows herself to indulge. But then she’s right back at it — making healthy choices that will enrich the rest of her life.
Full speed ahead
Of course she was nervous when she was crowned Tennessee TOPS Queen. She doesn’t like the spotlight. But Covert was willing to share her story in the hopes of inspiring others who are where she once was. She was even thrown a celebration shower by her TOPS chapter for winning this honor. They gave her clothes, jewelry, perfume, etc.
She said weight loss surgery wasn’t something she ever considered. “I wanted to do this the old-fashioned way,” she explained.
Like many others who struggle with their weight, Covert tried several programs. For her, TOPS was the catalyst she needed. It might be something else that ultimately works for others.
“It’s not easy, I admit,” Covert said. “You have to make that choice. For me, I realized I wasn’t getting any younger.”
Covert has more energy than she’s had in years. She doesn’t shy away from people as much as she did. She looks at what she’s accomplished with much joy. She also knows the work isn’t done. Losing the weight was a goal, but keeping it off is the next step in the process, Covert said.
“I have come a long way from where I was,” she said. “I can now jog on the treadmill. I can walk better. I feel better.”